by Cash Michaels, The Cash Roc and NC SPIN panelist, February 21, 2014.
In the aftermath of last week’s political firestorm surrounding the nomination of Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. as executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Chavis, who had his nomination temporarily withdrawn amid false allegations from moderate and conservative Democrats, says he can and will help the party muster up needed votes to win this fall.
But only if the state party can overcome its internal differences and divisions, and unify in asking him to help.
Meanwhile a statewide letter petition is being circulated to Democrats, asking the NCDP Executive Council to back Chairman Randy Voller in his efforts to recruit Chavis. In addition, support among NC black Democrats is growing as the party’s African-American Caucus has issued a statement backing Voller, and the nomination of Dr. Chavis.
In an exclusive interview with The Carolinian andWilmington Journal newspapers Wednesday, Dr. Chavis said, “It is up to the [NCDP]…” if he is to become executive director.
“I would never try to impose my leadership on anyone or anything.”
Dr. Chavis says Chairman Voller, whom he has known for only a short time since the 2012 Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and had supported as chair, approached Chavis with the offer to become an interim NCDP executive director [ED].
The previous ED, Robert Dempsey, was summarily fired by Voller Feb. 9th, according to that statewide petition letter to the state Executive Council, because he allegedly, “…has ignored matters brought to his attention by members of minority groups within the Democratic Party. The members are loyal voting Democrats, and on a daily basis fight Governor McCrory and General Assembly Republicans, while experiencing unprofessional treatment within one’s own party is outrageous.”
Dr. Gracie Galloway, Democratic chairperson of the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Mecklenburg County, confirmed in an interview that Dempsey was unresponsive to the needs of “minority” members of the NCDP, having dealt with him personally on several organizational issues.
Chavis was moving back home to North Carolina to pursue other opportunities – particularly with helping historically black colleges and universities - but says he was willing to lend his talents and services to the NCDP when Voller made the ED offer for what is considered a crucial midterm election year.
But once word got out, it didn’t take long for Chavis to realize that those in the party who opposed the progressive politics of Voller were moving swiftly to block the nomination at all costs.
What specifically surprised Chavis was that contrary to what he expected, there were officers directly under the NCDP chairman who were opposed to his nomination as E.D., and were also working to stop it.
“Some of the people who opposed Voller used this as an opportunity to create their own agenda,” Chavis said. “I thought that when the chairman of the [NC] Democratic Party extended an overture, that his overture was representative of the political will of at least a majority of the officials at the party.”
“I would have never entertained the idea of becoming executive director of the NCDP if I didn’t feel that it was a sincere overture,” Chavis continued, adding that there are progressive, moderate and conservative divisions within the party.
Chavis said Chairman Voller had hoped to unite all factions of the party around a massive voter registration effort, which needed to start immediately in order to generate enough of a statewide base to carry the Democrats to victory in November.
The key was to do what the Obama campaign successfully did in 2008, namely bring new voters into the base. With a tight statewide race between incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and any Republican on the line, and GOP redistricting essentially making almost every Republican-led voting district bulletproof on the state and congressional levels, Chavis said his previous experience at running voter registration campaigns on national, regional and statewide levels, plus his skills communicating with young people through his Hip Hop Action Network with music legend Russell Simmons, was the NCDP’s best hope of taking North Carolina back from the Republicans this year.
Chavis said if you total the number of black, Latino and young potential voters who are not registered in the state, it adds up to approximately one million. Unless the NCDP devises an effective outreach to capture the lion’s share of these unregistered groups, its chances of winning back North Carolina are slim.
Chavis said he was willing to devote himself to that task for his home state, and the NCDP. Given the negative impact on the state since the Republicans took over in 2012, he saw it as an imperative that he does all he can to help turn the tide.
And of key interest to Chavis is working on economic development issues across the state, so that low-wealth communities could grow and prosper.
“My motive was to come to serve the people of North Carolina, to serve institutions of higher learning, and to serve those, heretofore, whose rights have been denied and suppressed,” Chavis said.
But before his plane could touch down at RDU International Airport Tuesday, Feb. 11th, Democrats opposed to Voller’s leadership mobilized a concerted media and online campaign to relitigate not only past allegations of sexual harassment against Chavis from his days as executive director of the NAACP twenty years ago, but also his brief membership in the Nation of Islam subsequently.
On social media sites like Facebook and Blue NC, Democrats identifying themselves as Jewish immediately labeled Chavis as “anti-Semitic” because of his association with NOI leader Min. Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making inflammatory statements about alleged Jewish mistreatment of blacks.
With the exception of a late interview on WNCN-TV which aired too late to make a difference, Chavis was not afforded an effective platform or opportunity to answer the charges, and ended up asking Chairman Voller to with draw his nomination from the state Executive Council vote that evening, possibly to regroup in 30 days.
Chavis says though there was a settlement of a sexual harassment allegation when he was executive director of the NAACP in 1994, it was a “totally false” allegation, with no admission of guilt.
“We live in a litigious society where sometimes people will try to extort money from an organization or a person by making false allegations,” Chavis insisted. “None of though allegations were ever proven to be true.”
Chavis also vehemently denied charges of anti-Semitism (hating Jewish people), saying that in his many ventures across the country and the world, he works with Jews “almost every day. He adds that his critics would be hardpressed to find any statements by him expressing hatred of Jewish people, because he’s never made any.
Chavis said he hasn’t been a member of the NOI for years, and is a member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, NC, where the Rev. Leon White is the pastor.
And then this week, Gary Pearce, currently involved in entertainer Clay Aiken's congressional campaign, and former press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt when Hunt refused to pardon Chavis and the Wilmington Ten in 1978, posted the false assertion that Barack Obama had “disavowed” support from Chavis during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Chavis not only refuted the false allegation (Obama did disavow his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Min Farrakhan), but added that he and Obama worked together in Chicago when the president was still a community organizer there.
As of press time, Mr. Pearce had not retracted his false allegation, nor apologized for the error.
Chavis says what has happened in the past week proves that there is a fear in North Carolina that is not just generated by Republicans, and that’s what has North Carolina “trending backwards.”
“If the [NCDP] wants me to serve [as executive director], I am open to that overture,” Chavis said Wednesday, “but it’s up to them.”
“I’m not going to stand still.”
This week, a statewide petition letter, addressed to the NCDP State Executive Council, not only denounces the attacks on Dr. Chavis, leveled against him in a concerted effort by moderate NC Democratic party members, but challenges those members to own up to the party’s own well-documented and widely reported misdeeds of sexual harassment coverup and criminal corruption by elected officials, before they judge the civil rights leader.
The petition letter also reasserts the chairman’s right to not only terminate an employee – in this case former ED Robert Dempsey - but then hire a replacement, subject, according to the NCDP’s Plan of Organization, to the approval of the State Executive Council, “…to serve at the pleasure of the state chair.”
Eighth District Chairperson Dr. Gracie Galloway says she wants Democrats to sign the letter, and send it to Chairman Voller at NC Democratic Party Headquarters.
Galloway calls what happened to Dr. Chavis, “ a travesty.”
Meanwhile, in a letter issued from the state office of the African-American Caucus of the NCDP, state President Willie Fleming wrote that the AAC, “…strongly supports our State Chairman Randy Voller, his vision, decision-making and commitment to improving the lives of all North Carolinians.”
Fleming’s letter went on to say, “ We applaud Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. for submitting his name to become our party’s next Executive Director. We support African-American and minority involvement in this crucially important and historic process for the North Carolina Democratic Party.”